Where do we go now?

We have looked at Mark Dever’s 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. We looked at Scripture, discussed the practicality and biblical essence of each mark. Now what?

We need to heed James’ advice, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22, NIV) In other words, we need to get busy!

How can we do this? What practical steps can we put in place to begin this journey to a healthy church? Here are a few practical things we can do, generally speaking.

First, begin by addressing one mark now. Do not wait to do it, start now! There truly is no time like the present. Part of what you do will depend on your position. If you are a deacon, you will have a greater responsibility (and ability) to further healthy change. Whatever your position, you must do something. It may involve you studying Scripture and sharing it with others. It may be asking questions in a meeting. Whatever it is, start now (and start with one). There is a biblical precedent for this in 2 Pet. 1:5-8.

Second, seek to master one mark. What do I mean? If you desire to renew a commitment to biblical church membership, read books about it. Study the Scripture passages that discuss it. Be a “church membership” expert. What this will do is provide you with the knowledge to help others (a biblical concept as well, see 1 Tim. 1:5, 4:6).

Third, challenge others! The writer of Hebrews states it like this, “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24, NASB). They may desire to focus on another area of church health (such as biblical theology). That does not matter, cheer them on to search it out!

We asked at the beginning, “Can a church be healthy?” I hope that it is evident, now, that the answer is “YES!” The church can be healthy. Now the question before us is, “Is my church healthy?” You can answer that with a “YES!” as well, but you have to get to work!

What is church discipline?

(Post originally published at Warrior Creek Baptist Church. Used with permission.)

Paul, after describing an incestuous relationship permitted in the church, tells the Corinthian believers, “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor. 5:4-5, ESV)

This word from Paul bites the ears of the present-day believer. It is unimaginable to the church growth guru. It is unthinkable to the civilized, well-to-do churchgoer. It is detestable in our inclusive culture. What is Paul thinking?

Paul is thinking about church discipline. Not unlike a doctor setting a bone, the church works to keep the holiness growing. Along similar lines Mark Dever writes, “Church discipline sounds like a pretty negative topic, I admit…When we hear of discipline, we tend to think of correction or of a spanking; we think of our parents when we were little…We should all, without hesitation, admit our need for discipline, our need for shaping…Once we have come to that admission, however, notice that much of discipline is positive discipline, or as it is traditionally called, ‘formative discipline.’”[1]

Dever is absolutely correct about our aversion to church discipline. But if desire to be a healthy church (i.e., a biblical church), we do not have a choice regarding discipline. We need to understand that it is, indeed, biblical. From there we can see how churches can practice discipline. As we work through the Scriptures, please keep in mind Dever’s distinguishing remarks. We are engaging in formative discipline, which aims at restoration and growth (a biblical goal, by the way!).

THE BIBLICAL BASIS OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE

In his chapter on church discipline, Dever lists the following references: Heb. 12:1-14, Matt. 8:15-17, 1 Cor. 5:1-11, Gal. 6:1, 2 Thess. 3:6-15, 1 Tim. 1:20, 5:19-20, Titus 3:9-11. We cannot look at all of these (well, I guess we could, but statistics show that you would stop reading before we were halfway through!). We will use one to demonstrate the biblical basis for church discipline.

Matthew 18:15-17 (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1-11) provides the direct commandments of Messiah Jesus for handling offenses (i.e., sin) in the church context.


15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that atthe testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector. (NET)

Several key points stand out:
· It is in the context of Christian relationship (i.e., “brother)· It involves sin· The goal is restoration (“If he listens to you, you have regained your brother”)· It involves consistent refusal to repent (one on one, one plus one-to-two witnesses on one, church on one) The other passages cited by Dever either branch off of this basic treatment or expand it. For example, for the goal of restoration, after warning against fellowshipping with an unrepentant offender, Paul tells the church “Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” (2 Thess. 3:15, NET)

The Scriptures are unanimous on the need for, the goal of, and the manner in which church discipline is to be practiced.

THE PRACTICE OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE


How, then, does a church actually discipline? This is a great question, and it requires a lengthy response. To begin with, as we discuss church discipline, we must always keep in mind the restorative aspect of it (or, what Dever refers to as “formative discipline”). It is not meant to be a mace with which to bludgeon church members. If we forget this, then we risk practicing a biblical tenant in an unbiblical way.
Second, the majority of churches (well-established churches in particular) have some form of discipline written in their constitutions and/or by-laws. I have been a member at eight churches, and each church lays out the process of church discipline. This is excellent for at least two reasons. First, it provides the biblical plan for church discipline prior to the need to practice it. Second, it protects the church from potential litigation.
Third, and this is key, churches must practice church discipline. Though churches desire a growing membership and attendance, they cannot ignore the biblical need for formative discipline. The church has been commissioned by the Lord Jesus to make disciples (see Matt. 28:18-20). A failure to practice church discipline is a failure to make disciples. Of course, this is unacceptable. However, churches that fail to practice church discipline, besides disobeying their Lord, also weaken the membership. “A little yeast affects the whole batch,” Paul writes to the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 5:6, NET). In other words, a little sin affects the whole church.

Where do we go from here? I think it would be helpful to provide teaching on the matter first. In other words, address it from the passages in which it appears, make mention of it through conversations, and ensure the leadership understands its importance and necessity. Second, begin actively discipling now. In other words, if churches were more concerned about the spiritual health of their members then many of the issues requiring discipline would be prevented. Third, actually practice it when needed.
A church that disciplines, in a biblical and healthy way, is a healthier church.


[1] Mark Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church New Expanded Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 168-169.

How does evangelism help or hinder the health of the church?

Post originally published at https://www.warriorcreek.org/pastor-s-blog, used by permission.

In his small book titled, Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus, J. Mack Stiles defines evangelism as “teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.”[1] As we consider the health of the church, we cannot ignore evangelism, that form of communication with the goal of reaching people for Jesus Christ.
It is the execution of Jesus’ words to His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20, NIV)
The command of Jesus has enormous implications for the church in general and for the health of the church specifically. In this post, we are going to briefly discuss evangelism and how it can help or harm the health of the church. In his book 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever asks four questions in regards to evangelism:
· “Who should evangelize?”· “How should we evangelize?”· “What is evangelism?”· “Why should we evangelize?”[2]
Who should evangelize? Every disciple of Jesus should evangelize. Obviously, this does not mean that every disciple of Jesus will evangelize. In fact, I think it could be argued that most disciples of Jesus do not evangelize. This, however, is irrelevant. Every disciple of Jesus should evangelize. Mark Dever captures the reasons why so well as he writes, “Christians often leave evangelism to “the professionals” out of a sense of inadequacy, apathy, ignorance, fear, or simply feeling that it is inappropriate for them to do it.”[3] I am sure that we all have experiences with one or more of these. However, we should never use these as excuses not to evangelize.
How should we evangelize? This is important, and one that deserves more treatment that we will offer here. However, there are a few points we should keep in mind. First, we must understand the gospel (remember Mack Stiles’ definition). Greg Gilbert provides the essence of the gospel in four words, “God, man, Christ, response.”[4] We build upon these four core concepts, but without them we cannot communicate the gospel. In addition, we should use “our lives and our lips.”[5] That is, our life styles should reflect the teachings of the gospel. They should conform to the Word of God. In addition, our we should evangelize with our lips. That is, we need to vocalize the whole God, man, Christ, and response truths. Learn what the Scriptures say about these four concepts. Develop different ways to articulate them. That is how we should evangelize.
What is evangelism? We have already answered this with Stiles’ definition, and I think it bears repeating. “Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.”[6] Stiles develops this definition by adding several key points. We seek to teach the Gospel specifically (again, think of Gilbert’s four concepts). Stiles describes his own process, “No matter where or with whom, the process is simple: we read the passage [of Scripture] and talk about what it means.”[7] We teach the Scriptures. However, we do not simply fill people’s heads with knowledge about the Bible. We “aim to persuade.”[8] “Our aim helps us remember that much is at stake: to see people moved from darkness to light, from bondage to freedom. Aiming for something bigger helps us know which fights to pick and which to avoid,” writes Stiles.[9] This helps us understand what evangelism is and how to evangelize.
The final question we must ask is, Whys should I evangelize? To this question, Mark Dever offers three helpful and biblical reasons:
· “a desire to be obedient to the Great Commission”· “a love for the lost”· “a love for God.”[10]
These are excellent reminds of the importance of our mission. We seek to obey our Lord in fulfilling His Great Commission. In addition, if we love the lost (i.e., people who are not disciples of Jesus Christ) we will share the only hope they have of being found. Finally, and as Dever notes, “preeminently” we should evangelize because we love God.[11]
Summary
Evangelism is a key aspect of the Scriptures, of the Christian life, and it should be a mark of the church. If evangelism is found in the church, then that church is on its way to health. How are we, individually, doing with evangelism? How is our church engaging in evangelism? Obviously, it is difficult in the midst of this pandemic. However, a pandemic is not permission to avoid evangelizing. We need to be a healthy church, and to be healthy we need to evangelize. [1] J. Mack Stiles, Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 26. [2] Mark Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 120. [3] Ibid. [4] Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 32. [5] Will Metzger, Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel Wholly By Grace Communicated Truthfully & Lovingly 4th Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press, 2012), 56. [6] Stiles, Evangelism, 26. [7] Ibid., 31. [8] Ibid., 26. [9] Ibid., 35. [10] Dever, 9 Marks, 138. [11] Ibid.

How does conversion affect the church’s health?

(This post is originally found at https://www.warriorcreek.org/pastor-s-blog, used with permission)

A drunk who has spent years and enormous amounts of wealth.

A compulsive buyer who cannot say “No” to a good bargain.

A serial adulteress.

An incontrollable liar.

A politician.

A lawyer.

What does these have in common? Many answers could be offered, and most would more than likely be correct. However, one answer to that question has enormous impact on our understanding of the health of the church.

These individuals, and many others like them, cannot change. That would be the answer that connects them all. Unfortunately, many people in our society, including Christians, hold to this view. Mark Dever discusses this when he writes,

“For many today, wisdom is seen as learning to accept your internal circumstances, to adjust to them, to adapt to them—not to try to fundamentally change them. The die is cast, the lot is fixed, our personality is assigned, and except for some terrible trauma, the assumption is that the leopard does not change his spots, the anxious person his personality, or the insecure person his psyche. ‘That’s the way it is!’ Maturity comes from facing up to the truth about yourself and resigning yourself to it.”[1]

But is that true? Are people assigned to their different vices and shortcomings? How you answer this has enormous implications for the health of the church. For if no one can truly change, then the church will be filled with people no different from the world.[2] And if no one can change, then there is no salvation. That is, if people cannot change, then sin remains, and damnation awaits (Rev. 20:11-15; 21:8).

This would be terrible news, if it were true. But praise the Triune God that it is definitely not true! Paul tells us such in 2 Cor. 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (NIV) That is change. The old is gone, the new is here. Jesus tells Nicodemus essentially the same thing, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3, NIV) We can change, but how?

This is what the third mark of a healthy church comes into play. We are dealing with conversion, a term that has fallen into disuse, unfortunately replaced with the term “decision.” Helping remove confusion from the term conversion, Mack Stiles notes, “But the Bible clearly teaches that conversion is not a function of your parents’ religion, of which church you join, or of what your passport says. It’s not based on your academic achievements, even if they are from a religious institution. Conversion comes from true, conscious, genuine faith in Jesus.”[3] It is not a decision in the same sense that one becomes a fan of the Dallas Stars hockey team. It is true change, rebirth, new creation.

One of the sad results of a consumer-mentality is how it has changed the church. We have seeker-sensitive churches (a phrase that creates a whole host of problems). These churches have good aims. They want to see people in the community saved. However, they go about it in the wrong way. As a result, churches may skim on what conversion is, shrinking it down to what they consider “essential,” that is, making a decision or repeating a prayer. While the decision to trust Christ for salvation is there (see Rom. 10:9-10), it is not just a decision. It is a change.

Putting it in stark terms, Paul describes conversion as dead people coming to life (see Eph. 2:1-10). As we consider the health of our church, we need to see if our church as whole understands what conversion is. All the teachers, deacons, pastors (yes, the New Testament teaches a plurality of pastors/elders) must understand conversion. Not only that, all our members must grasp conversion (interestingly, membership is one of the marks of a healthy church, which, Lord-willing, we will discuss on 16 February 2021).

Conversion must be an essential mark of our church if we are to see the Gospel proclaimed (with lives and lips). Conversion must be expected if we desire to grow into the body of Christ (Eph. 4:1-16). We started with a list of individuals with various problems. After their salvation (see John 3 and 2 Cor. 5), we will find this:

A saved lawyer.

A sanctified politician.

A former liar.

A committed wife.

A wise steward.

A sober man investing in his family, church, and community.

What is the key to conversion: Jesus Christ and His glorious gospel.


[1] Mark Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 97.

[2] Compare the differences between people who are saved and people who are lost: 1 Cor. 5:9-6:11; Gal. 5:16-26; and Col. 3:1-11, to offer a few.

[3] J. Mack Stiles, Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 36.

How does Gospel Understanding Affect Church Health?

This post was originally published on warriorcreek.org/, used with the author’s permission.


“What is the gospel?” asks the cashier at the grocery store. This comes on the heels of your questions, “Do you go to church? Have you believed the gospel?” What do you say?
You are caught off guard, and unconsciously pull out a gospel tract and hand it to the nice, young lady, explaining that a small booklet will answer her questions. You quickly gather your items and head for the door, simultaneously embarrassed by your forgetfulness and angered by your response.

Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever felt like you were unable to articulate the gospel? Well, you may have experienced this, but did you know churches experience it as well?

We are in a series that is discussing the question, “What is a healthy church?” Part of the answer to that question depends upon our understanding of the gospel.

We return to Mark Dever’s book, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, Dever gives us four negatives that help dispel confusion,

· “The good news is not simply that we are okay.”

· “The good news is not simply that God is love.”

· “The good news is not simply that Jesus wants to be our friend.”

· “The good news is not simply that we should live right.”[1]

We could spend a good deal of time dissecting these negative answers to the question, “What is the Gospel?” However, I think they immediately clear up the confusion and dispel the clouds that often skew our vision of the glorious gospel.

At the level of churches, one can also see how important this is within the walls of the church. It is paramount that churches avoid these “simply’s” of the gospel. Our churches need to understand what the Gospel is for several reasons.

If the church does not understand the Gospel, then the church cannot fulfill her mission (see Matt. 28:18-20). If the church does not understand the Gospel, then the church cannot disciple her members. If the church does not understand the Gospel, the question must be asked, “Is this a church?”

The stakes are high when discussing the gospel. But if you have followed this far, you will notice we have not answered the question, “What is the gospel?”

We turn our attention to Greg Gilbert, the author of What is the Gospel?[2] Gilbert summarizes his answer, drawing and relying upon Romans 1-4, writing, “We are accountable to the God who created us. We have sinned against that God and will be judged. But God has acted in Jesus Christ to save us, and we take hold of that salvation by repentance from sin and faith in Jesus.”[3]

That is the gospel in summary format. The entire Scriptures build upon this foundation (or, skeleton). As Glasser et. al. remark, “The whole Bible, both Old and New Testaments is a missionary book, the revelation of God’s purpose and action in mission in human history.”[4]
In order to understand the Gospel better, you need to read the Bible, God’s Gospel book (or, missionary book). Churches, in order to be healthy, need to understand the Gospel. Confusion of the Gospel not only hinders the health of the church at large, it also has the possible barring of people from salvation. For example, if a church does not preach the Gospel, let alone understand the Gospel, then the church could by default keep people away from their hope of salvation.

The church, which is made up of individuals like you, must have an intimate grasp of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Without it, it is unhealthy at best, and dead at worst.


[1] Mark Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church New Expanded Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 80-90. [2] Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010). [3] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 32. [4] Arthur F. Glasser, et. al., Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God’s Mission in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 17.

How can a church be healthy with so many views?

“Long-held Christian beliefs about everything from the nature of God to morality have been reshaped and have become unimportant to many people.”[1]

Mark Dever’s statement is a sad testament to the reality of the church today. As we continue our discussion on the topic of the health of the church, we must consider the beliefs of the church. How can a church be healthy with so many views? If the church is to be healthy, the church must hold to biblical theology.

Now, I will admit that I am tempted to dive into the nerdy pool known as biblical theology with intensity. However, I want to balance that with a practical view of the church at large. With that in mind, I think it would be helpful to offer a definition. In his book, Biblical Theology, Geerhardus Vos defines biblical theology as, “deal[ing] with revelation as a divine activity.”[2] Revelation is a term that is used to God’s communication to humanity. There are two primary ways that God does this, through general and special revelation (both can be observed in Psalm 19).

We are focusing primarily on special revelation, in other words, the Bible. What we believe, both as individuals and as a church, must come from God’s revelation. This revelation is the result of divine activity, as we learn from Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” (ESV). His counterpart, Peter, also teaches us this, “but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21, ESV).

When we consider the health of the church, we must understand that God defines what a healthy church is, and He does so in His Word. Therefore, it is necessary that our churches look to His Word for her health.

Dever, connecting biblical theology to our lives, asks, “How relevant are your own beliefs to your daily life? When you last sat in church, how much did you examine the words of the prayers you heard? How much did you think about the words of the songs you sang? Or how about the words you heard from Scripture? Does it really matter to you if what you said or sang in church was true?”[3]

Think about those questions. When is the last time you asked yourself these questions? I hope that it becomes immediately apparent how our theology (i.e., what we believe) informs and affects our practice (i.e., how we act).

We need only examine the various churches today to see that biblical theology does not inform many churches. But our concern is with our church. How can we ensure our church adheres to biblical theology?

First, we must hold up the Scriptures as the Word of God. It is not just a book of collected wisdom. It is not just a book of morality. It is not just a book of God’s dealing with people throughout history. It is God’s Word, more necessary than bread for life (“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” Matt. 4:4, ESV). The Scriptures, not tradition (though tradition has its place), nor political opinion, nor societies, should hold the place of primacy within the church.

Second, we must submit to the Scriptures for all faith and practice. In the London Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, we read this summary of the importance of the Scriptures, “The whole counsel of God…is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture…The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved.”[4] I realize that is a lengthy quote, but I hope it illustrates the importance of God’s Word in our lives and practices in the church.

Third, we must spend time studying and understanding the Scriptures. The Baptist Confession, referring to the Scriptures, states, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding to them.”[5] Notice that phrase “in a due use of ordinary means.” That is, as we use our minds to read and understand the Scriptures, our knowledge grows. This is specific knowledge, as Peter reminds us, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises…” (2 Pet. 1:3-4, ESV). All things for “life and godliness” are found in the “precious and very great promises” provided to us through “His divine power.” As such, we should spend time studying the Word of God, individually and corporately. We have no excuse not to study.

While much more could be written, I will close with Mark Dever’s words. He writes, “In the Bible we see God giving us His Word—His promises—and we respond to Him by trusting Him—just as Adam and Eve did not do in the Garden of Eden; just as Jesus did throughout His life and especially in the Garden of Gethsemane. And as we hear and believe God’s Word, we begin to have that relationship with Him that He made us for. This is the God whom we can trust and should trust, because His Word will not disappoint. This is what the Bible is all about.”[6] Will our church practice biblical theology? If we are to be a healthy church, we have no other choice.


[1] Mark Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church New Expanded Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 58.

[2] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, reprint 2017), 5.

[3] Dever, 9 Marks, 58.

[4] LBCF, I:6, 10.

[5] LBCF, I:7.

[6] Dever, 9 Marks, 75.

How do we become a healthy church? Start with the preaching.

(This post was originally posted to https://www.warriorcreek.org/pastor-s-blog, used with the author’s permission)

Last week we asked the question, “What is a healthy church?” We begin answering that question today. Inherent in this question are two truths. One truth is that a church can be unhealthy. That is, a church can exist in a state of illness. Not unlike human beings with sickness, the church can exist though hindered through ill health. The second truth is that a church can be healthy. That is, the church can do what is necessary to be healthy.

For a variety of reasons, churches are in poor health. We begin to address these issues with the matter of preaching. Preaching is defined as “The announcing of the good news of God by his servants through the faithful revelation of God’s will, the exposition of God’s word and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”[1] In this definition we have three aspects:

  • Announcing of the good news (i.e., the gospel)
  • Exposition (i.e., unfolding) of God’s Word
  • Proclamation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God

This definition also provides us with the various parts of preaching: vocal proclamation (“announcing”), focused on the discussion and application of the Word (“exposition”), and the Person of preaching (“of Jesus Christ”).

While we could easily devote an entire series to preaching (a goal that I eventually would love to undertake), we will focus our attention on the second aspect. We will deal with the first mark that Dever discusses in his book 9 Marks of a Healthy Church.[2]

Dever writes, “The first mark of a healthy church is expositional preaching. It is not only the first mark; it is far and away the most important of them all, because if you get this one right, all of the others should follow.”[3] In another book, one author offers this statement, “expository preaching focuses predominately on the text(s) under consideration along with its (their) context(s).”[4]

Expositional (exposition and expository can be used interchangeably) preaching, then, takes the text, discusses the text as originally written, and then applies the text to the hearers hearts. This idea should come as no surprise, for it was the practice of the early church in the book of Acts. “Actually, that is exactly what we see the non-prophet, non-apostle, non-Son-of-God preachers doig throughout the Bible; they preach the Scriptures, explaining them and applying them to their listeners.”[5]

According to this definition (and example in Scripture), preaching that does not develop from, expound upon, and apply to the listens from the Bible is not expositional preaching. We can all think of excellent story tellers, illustrators, and reference-connectors. These, however, are not demonstrations of expositional preaching.

A church that is healthy is a church that regularly feeds on the Word of God. Forgive me for this lengthy quote, but Dever helps us see why expositional preaching should be the norm of the church. He writes,

“Preaching should always (or almost always) be expositional because the Word of God should be at its center, directing it. In fact, churches should have the Word at their center, directing them. God has chosen to use His Word to bring life. That’s the pattern that we see in Scripture and in history. His Word is How own chosen instrument for bringing life.”[6]

Expositional (or, expository) preaching should be a mark of the church. Why? The importance of the Word of God is written so frequently throughout the Scriptures that it would be an enormous task to examine them all. However, one passage in particular comes to mind: Psalm 1.

We have looked at this psalm in a previous post, but this psalm presents a wonderful picture of the importance of the Word of God.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of the sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not whither. In all that he does, he prospers.

The Word of God has incredible (and eternal) benefits. Why would the church not want to hear it expounded? As we seek to develop into a healthy church, let us desire and require expositional preaching.


[1] Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: Martin Manser, 2009).

[2] Mark  Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church New Expanded Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 35-55.

[3] Dever, 9 Marks, 39.

[4] Richard L. Mayhue, “Rediscovering Expository Preaching,” in John MacArthur and the Master’s Seminary Faculty, Rediscovering Expository Preaching: Balancing the Science and Art of Biblical Exposition (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 1992), 9.

[5] Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert, Preach: Theology Meets Practice (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2012), 40.

[6] Dever, 9 Marks, 42.

What is a healthy church?

We enter this new year with a question of enormous importance, “What is a healthy church?” I find it interesting that we begin this year discussing the health of the church, considering the current pandemic afflicting the entire globe.

More than ever, human beings are concerned with health, and rightly so. Given the importance of a healthy life style, both for the present and the future, human beings should be concerned about their physical health. The Christian, more than others, knows that the Scriptures describe their bodies as “temples of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 6:19, NIV) In the context, Paul is addressing sexual immorality, but no doubt this temple-body motif embraces physical well-being.

The fitness, supplement, and general health industries are booming with business. In particular, as we are at the beginning of January, many individuals have made resolutions to do things differently. These resolutions are often tied to physical health.

“What does this have to do with the church?” you may ask. While physical health is important and should be protected (see Ex. 20:13 for God’s estimation of the value of life), we must not neglect the health of our churches.

Our churches need to be healthy. We should, as Christians, be concerned about the health and wellbeing of our church as much as (or more) our physical health. The question is, “What is a healthy church?” This implies that there are unhealthy churches. Perhaps a contrast will help provide a better context in which to discuss a healthy church.

An unhealthy church is a church that is not reflecting the image of the Savior. This can be observed in a variety of ways. Authoritarian leadership, careless members, unregenerate membership, failure to preach and teach the Scriptures, any abuse (sexual, physical, or spiritual), are all manifestations of unhealthy churches. We could list many more, unfortunately. One of the reasons churches are unhealthy, and perhaps the main reason, is due to the fact that the church is made up of sinners. We often forget this, but its true. However, another factor to consider, and one that will make up the majority of this series of posts, is that the church is unhealthy because she has largely neglected the Scriptures.

As scientists learn more about the human body and a healthy lifestyle, they are increasingly discovering that the basics are vitally important. These foundational aspects include a proper diet and exercise routine, 7-8 hours of sleep, and mental health. This provides us with a wonderful physical representation of a spiritual truth. There are basics to being a healthy church.

In the following posts, we will look at these basics of a health church, what has historically been referred to as “marks.”[1] Mark Dever, a historian and pastor, has written a book entitled 9 Marks of a Healthy Church.[2] This book will serve as our guide discussing what a healthy church looks like. If you are able to, I would encourage you to pick up a copy. While it may be deeper than some of you are familiar, I think it will help form a biblical view of the church. This will, then, enable us to be a healthier church, and this is all for the glory of God (see 1 Cor. 10:31; Eph. 1:3-14).


[1] Mark Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church: New Expanded Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 21-24.

[2] Ibid.

The Ancient and Modern Church

The below post was for an assignment regarding the separation engaged in by the ancient church. To what extent should a church separate from certain practices? Is there anything in culture a Christian abstain from? Please share your thoughts below!

Separation Based on Acceptance

When Constantine granted freedom to the Christian religion, many people would have rejoiced. The terrible persecutions ended, and now practicing Christians could enjoy open worship of God.[1] Austin notes the detrimental effect Constantine’s decision had on the church, “While Christianity converted the world, the world also converted Christianity. The natural impulses of pagan humanity were openly displayed among professing Christians. Doubtless tens of thousands had followed their emperor into the fold of the church without ever experiencing true regeneration or new birth.”[2] Because Christianity was legal, everyone wanted to join. Whereas the illegal religion was once looked upon as a blessed protection, it was now enjoyed by all.[3]

There is a similarity between the legalization of Christianity in ancient Rome and the once, wide-acceptance of Christianity in the United States. Though there is a decline at the moment, there are cultural benefits to “being Christian.”[4] One might place their involvement in a leadership position in a youth group on a resume. One may say that he is a Christian in order to be well received at work.[5] However, these people may not be true Christians. They reject the commandments of God and live as if He does not exist.[6] The Ancient Church would have rejected the inclusion of these professed believers, individuals who may look and act the part but not truly be Christians.

Separation Based on Culture

The early church received persecution for many reasons, but one of the reasons for their persecution was their refusal to engage in the cultural norms of the day. One group of authors note, “Christians gathered in private, and their exclusive monotheism compelled them to refuse all participation in pagan religious observances….they were marked out as a small group of willful dissenters from the very basis of communal life.”[7] Roman culture was anything but Christian.[8] The early Christians, then, separated from the social norms of the day.[9] They separated from the culture, though it cost them everything.[10]

The modern church, however, has allowed much of the American culture to infiltrate and devastate the church. Views of music, dress, and personal sanctification are cast aside in order to “by all means save some.”[11] The Ancient Church would separate from the culture, not embrace it.

Separation Based on Methodology

The Ancient Church experienced a traumatic event in AD 313. The Edict of Milan provided unparalleled freedom to the Christians, in addition to many financial and political advancements.[12] This changed everything. One group of writes discuss this monumental shift, “Thus the church passed from persecution to privilege. In an amazingly short time, its prospects changed completely. After centuries as a counter-culture movement, the church had to learn how to deal with power.”[13] There were many advantages to becoming a Christian after the Edict of Milan.[14] The Church, then, was able to utilize many methods (including financial gain) to gather people into her membership. The Ancient Church, no doubt, rejected these underhanded methods, ultimately bringing further persecution.[15]

The modern church would do well to follow their example. The variety of unbiblical and downright sinful methods utilized in churches today is sickening.[16] The Ancient Church would have separated from this, following Paul’s example of “preach[ing] Christ crucified.”[17]

 

[1] This is a highly simplified description of the events. For more information, see Bill Austin, Austin’s Topical History of Christianity (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1983), 85-93.

[2] Austin, Austin’s Topical History, 90.

[3] “Rome, the imperial order, was perceived not as the real source of the evil by which Christians were afflicted but rather as a power which, in God’s providence, kept things from getting much worse—and this was a judgment which, no doubt in a very rough way, reflected the actual state of affairs.” Williston Walker, Richard A. Norris, David W. Lotz, and Robert T. Handy, A History of the Christian Church 4th Edition (New York, NY: Scribener’s Sons, 1985), 53.

[4] David Kinnaman, UnChristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007.

[5] This is the idea that Mark Dever discusses briefly in, Mark Dever, Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 14-16.

[6] For a deeper treatment of this, see John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith? Revise & Expanded Anniversary Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 9-11.

[7] Walker, et. al, History of the Christian Church, 51.

[8] Cynthia Long Westfall, “Roman Religions and the Imperial Cult,” Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder, The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[9] Jonathan Hill, Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 54-57.

[10] J. Hebert Kane notes the differences between Christian and Roman culture, and the cost of following Christ. See J. Herbert Kane, A Concise History of the Christian World Mission: A Panoramic View of Missions from Pentecost to the Present Revised Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1982),24-33.

[11] 1 Corinthians 9:22, KJV.

[12] Hill, Handbook to the Christian Church, 74-77.

[13] A. Kenneth Curtis, J. Stephen Lang, and Randy Petersen, The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1998), 34.

[14] Walker, et. al, History of the Christian, 129-130.

[15] The space does not allow a full discussion on this topic. The reader should consult the following materials for additional information: Walker, et. al, History of the Christian, 130-131; William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996); and Henry C. Vedder, A Short History of the Baptists: New and Illustrated Edition Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication, 1958)

[16] For one example, see Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Megachurch pastor Steven Furtick’s ‘spontaneous baptisms’ not so spontaneous,” Religious News Service (24 February 2014, https://religionnews.com/2014/02/24/megachurch-pastor-steven-furticks-spontaneous-baptisms-spontaneous/ accessed 30 November 2018).

[17] 1 Corinthians 1:23, KJV.

 

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“Do I believe?”

(Photo by adam morse on Unsplash)

In Michael Lawrence’s book, Conversion: How God Creates a People, the question, “Do I believe?” comes up. This is certainly a question we should all ask, and frequently (see 2 Corinthians 13:5). The Church faces a danger in her presentation of the Gospel. At times we present Christ as one choice among many, a relativistic mentality in which one chooses based upon his or her own preference. In this case, it is like choosing a favorite flavor of ice cream. While others present following Jesus as a mere reciting of a prayer. If you pray, “God, I know I am a sinner. I know Christ died for me. I believe.” then you are right on your way to heaven! It does not matter if you actually believe it. You said the prayer!

Of course, these two are not the only ways in which we skew what conversion is, and Lawrence notes those throughout his book. However, in his chapter titled, Assess Before You Assure, he offers eight ways in which the Church can help answer the question, “Do I believe?”

  1. “First, slow the membership process down.”This one is tough, especially for pastors. Imagine telling someone who wants to join your church, “Wait, let’s have a conversation and see what God is doing in your life.” His numbers would decrease! Yet, as Lawrence writes, “It shouldn’t be hard to join a church, but unlike the churches I grew up in, you shouldn’t be able to join the first Sunday you visit.” (Lawrence, 104)If we take the time to get to know one another, we may actually learn that one’s understanding of the Gospel is inaccurate. We may learn that they are able to articulate the Gospel, but their life does not match it. Hopefully, however, we learn that they know the Gospel and live by it, which will help confirm, in their own heart and mind, the affirmative answer to our question.
  2. “Second, have pastors or elders conduct membership interviews.”This is an area that I believe many churches could benefit. God gave the church pastor-teachers for several reasons. Ephesians 4:12-16 gives a good overview:“to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (ESV)One way to help answer the question, “Do I believe?” is to be interviewed by an elder or pastor. They are gifted in the areas of biblical teaching and insight, maintain high moral character (through the grace of God, of course), and are given by God for the very task of answering this question (among other duties). In the churches of the United States, we are too easily satisfied with a quick conversation that goes something like this:


    1. Pastor: So, why have you come forward?
    2. Prospective member: I want to join the church.
    3. Pastor: Sounds great! Have you accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior?
    4. Prospective member: Yes I did when I was a kid!
    5. Pastor: Amazing. Welcome to the church!


Of course, this is a simplification. However, I do not believe its too far off. Lawrence notes, “The point is to take the time to hear a person’s story in safety. There’s only so much you can learn in the hallway after church.” (Lawrence, 105) A discussion with an elder or pastor will help confirm one’s conversion, or it will open the door to discussion what conversion really is. Either way, the pastor-teacher is able to help develop the “knowledge of the Son of God” in the life of that individual (Ephesians 4:13).

 

  1. “Third, reconsider your practice of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”The Scriptures have much to say on these two ordinances. I believe the Church, in general, has reacted toward the Catholic understanding of sacraments too much. For example, when someone is baptized we stress that it is merely symbolic, it just represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Or take the Eucharist. We are simply doing this “in remembrance” of Him. We have down played their worth and benefit in order to avoid a wrong understanding. It is a good motive, but one that needs a little correcting. I believe Michael Lawrence’s words are best: “Other than on the missions frontier, as with the Ethiopian eunuch, the apostles had no category for a baptized Christian who wasn’t part of a local church. Devote time in the morning service to hear baptismal testimonies—not of prayers prayed, but of lives changed. When it comes to the Lord’s Super, don’t say, ‘The Tables are open.’ Take time to explain to each other who should participate in the Supper: baptized members of gospel-preaching local churches.” (Lawrence, 105)

We will save the other five for another post. Might I encourage you to ask yourself, “Do I believe?” One assistance is the local church. Are you a part of believers? Have you covenanted together? Perhaps you have never experience conversion. I would love to help you answer the question, “Do I believe?”

 

You can check on the book Conversion: How God Creates a People by Michael Lawrence here.